A Crapgame for Oddballs
There have been a lot of movies which you could box as "soldiers go on a mission" and usually they revolve around a team of soldiers trying to blow up something critical to the enemy be it an ammo dump or a fuel supply but "Kelly's Heroes" is different. It's different because whilst we have a group of WWII soldiers going on a mission it is a mission of their choosing to go behind enemy lines and steal 16 million dollars worth of gold bars belonging to the Germans. That difference also comes across in the fact that this team are regular soldiers, they're not military experts or former bank robbers just your regular Joe's on the frontline who are tired of fighting for someone else rather than themselves. But the big difference, the thing which really makes "Kelly's Heroes" stand out is that it is also funny with a variety of characters all of which are a little bit goofball. And as such "Kelly's Heroes" even now over 40 years after it was released is still great fun, if a little long.
Having kidnapped a German Colonel and returned to base with him, Private Kelly (Clint Eastwood - Two Mules for Sister Sara) discovers that he is transporting gold bars and having gotten him drunk learns there is a stash of $16,000,000 in gold behind enemy lines in a French town. Fed up of fighting for others Kelly decides that he is going to get his hands on that gold and with the aid of the others in his patrol and along with Sgt. Crapgame (Don Rickles - Casino) and the crazy Sgt. Oddball (Donald Sutherland - MASH) head off into enemy territory to pull of a bank job.
In many ways "Kelly's Heroes" follows the path of other movies which can be boxed as "soldiers go on a mission" but with the big difference is that it is a self centred mission to steal gold. It means you have the set up as we follow Private Kelly organize his team which is followed by the dangerous journey into enemy territory and then the final assault as they storm the town where the gold bars are kept. But whilst very much a routine storyline what makes this so different, so memorable is that it is full of comedy from various scenes to the characters
Right from the opening scenes as we watch Private Kelly driving a German Officer back to his side through an enemy line it makes you smile as the Germans suddenly realise what is going on as we watch Kelly bomb through them. And that humour continues as he gets the Officer drunk to get the truth out of him and the location of a stash of gold bars. And it goes on because through out "Kelly's Heroes" there are these humorous scenes be it a humorous argument between Big Joe and Kelly or the almost surreal Capt. Maitland discovering a boat in a barn and deciding to take it to Paris.
But the real humour comes from the wide range of characters which bring a smile to your face. Now both Clint Eastwood and Telly Savalas as Kelly and Big Joe almost feel like they are playing it straight because out of all the characters they border on the most normal. But you then get the craziness which is Donald Sutherland as Sgt. Oddball with his 3 Sherman tanks which blast music from a loud speaker as the attack and have shells filled with paint. And there's more because you get the money grabbing ways of the moaning Sgt. Crapgame and the almost stupidity of Maj. Gen. Colt. To put it simply, be it the men which Kelly leads on this raid or those who are of the periphery such as Maj. Colt they are a crazy bunch all of which are simply amusing.
All of which is good, "Kelly's Heroes" does a good job of making the "soldiers on a mission" idea interesting and amusing and with the added soundtrack which features the likes of "Burning Bridges" it's all very memorable. But it's not perfect and firstly at almost 2 and a half hours it does seem to go on, struggling to keep your interest during the middle section as the men head behind enemy lines. There is still action and comedy during this middle section but it almost loses momentum as it introduces us to Maj. Gen. Colt. And a second issue which spoils things is that there is no depth to any of the characters, they are just amusing goofballs which whilst work it would have been nice to learn a bit more about the pivotal ones.
What this all boils down to is that despite being a little long "Kelly's Heroes" is still a fabulous movie which provides something different to your normal soldiers on a mission storyline. It may follow the same path as many but the humour and goofball characters makes for a lot more entertainment when combined with a wonderful soundtrack that delivers some of the most memorable and at times surreal military scenes you will watch. And whilst Clint Eastwood and Telly Savalas maybe the stars the whole cast from Don Rickles as Sgt. Crapgame through to the wonderful Donald Sutherland as Sgt. Oddball make it the memorable movie that it ends up.